Joey didn't mention Elisaveta's relation to her friend again, for she could see that that young lady have no desire to talk about it. But in spite of their individual restraint, news of the visitor began to spread by other means. Cousin Sophia certainly seemed to be of interest to the Tiernsee locals.
"Have you heard that there is a new artist here?" asked Herr Braun of the Kron Prinz Karl. He was smiling, the humour bouncing out of his broad chest. "It is a long time since we have had an artist here. Perhaps there will be more artists, and we shall have a whole community once again. It will attract the visitors and that can only be a good thing, can it not?"
Joey, to whom he said all of this, made as noncommittal response as she could manage, for she was distinctly uncertain how Elisaveta would like it were she to indulge in speculative gossip about her cousin. But as the news spread, so too did rumours about the young woman's demeanour, and that of her companion.
"She seems to think she is something special!" Frau Braun, usually placid and smiling, flapped her tea towel with more than her usual vigour and bent to polish an already gleaming table. "Never says please, never says thank you, expect you to get out of the way when she walks through door - abominable, I call it."
"How do you know all of this?" asked Nell Wilson, lounging against the doorframe. "I haven't seen her on this side of the lake."
“No, but my cousin runs the big hotel in Buchau, and she has told me all of this. The artist woman goes in quite often for a drink, and always this imperiousness - and that is without reckoning with her companion, who always speaks to my cousin with the most disgusting arrogance. Who are they to behave like this? It really is a little much, do you not think, for people of our kind?"
"Almost as if they were royalty," said Nell, idly, and as she parted from the indignant hotel-keeper she fell to thinking. Joey and Elizaveta had forgotten that she too, had been party to at least some of their conversation with Sophia, and she had come quite naturally to the same conclusion as Joey – that's the young lady artist was not, as Frau Braun thought, of the common sort of mortal. Proving such an assertion was, however, a more difficult matter - and besides, Nell was not the sort to be seeking after knowledge that was not hers, no matter how much it intrigued her.
On this occasion, however, she did not need to seek out an introduction to the strange young woman, for it came to find her.
She was out on a Saturday afternoon ramble. The Chalet School staff may have been small, but they were still able to take an afternoon here or there, and though an afternoon was not sufficient to tackle a mountain, she was at least able to venture out on some manner of expedition. Today she decided to cross the lake and make an attempt on one of the hills on the far side of Buchau. Not that there was any design in her turning that way, for she was not thinking in particular about the mysterious artist. It was simply something different, and while the weather was nice and the days still long, it seemed quite appropriate to do things that were a little different.
She stopped in Buchau to have some tea and Brödchen at one of the hotels, and then she set off from the town and ten minutes later came to the start of her climb. After fifteen minutes of easy walking and a good ten minutes of fairly stiff climb, she came out upon an alm, and stopped, slightly breathless, to admire the view. Not that she was very high, but high enough to give a pleasing panorama of that portion of the lake valley that was not obscured by the mountain to her left - the rumpled green of the alm with the autumn shadows cast long and dark behind each tuft of grass, and down below the blue fracture that was the Tiernsee, and above a sky that was almost violet in hue and which breathed the barest breeze to ruffle her hair. It was quite easy to make out Briesau on the opposite short, and she fancied could see the school itself, which amused her more than it should have. She waved cheerfully to Hilda, stuck inside with the seniors, laughed, and turned away to find herself confronted by the slight figure of Elisaveta’s relation, the young artist.
Nell took a step backwards, because the woman was accompanied by a sturdy horse, chestnut in colour with a white mane and tail, and they were standing so close to her that she was amazed she had not heard the horse snuffling, even if the young woman had been silent. Horse and rider stood head-to-head, studying Nell. Confronted really was the right word. Nell looked from the horse to the woman and found herself uncharacteristically lost for words.
The young woman felt no such awkwardness, for she lifted her head and regarded Nell with interest.
“Who were you waving at?” she demanded in her unpractised English, surveying Nell through narrowed, predatory eyes - like a falcon eyeing up a mouse, thought Nell, suddenly indignant.
‘My school,’ she said, and felt all the absurdity of such a statement even before the small smile tweaked the corner of Sophia’s mouth. ‘Well,’ she added, trying to justify it, ‘they’re stuck inside on a lovely day like this, and I’m outside. It made me smile, that’s all.’
‘Ah, this is why you laughed.’ She did not seem particularly impressed. ‘This is English humour, perhaps?”
“Not especially.” Nell could hear her voice growing sharper and colder, but she could not resist. “It amused me, that’s all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a way further to climb before I return to the fold, as it were.’
She made to pass the young artist (not trusting herself near the horse, who was frisking his tail in a tense sort of manner), but before she could, a hand was placed in her way, and in so imperious a manner as to command her obedience.
‘Stop,’ she said. ‘I do not know your name, but I know that you are the schoolmistress that I saw the other day.’
‘My name is Wilson,’ interrupted Nell, bristling a little at the woman’s manner, and was rewarded with a lift of the head that intimidated her more than she cared to admit.
“I was speaking,” said the woman, not deigning to return the introduction. "Miss Wilson, then. You teach here - you will know your way about this place. I am lost - I need you to show me how to return to the village.”
Breath-taken, Nell turned her most withering look upon the young woman.
‘I see,’ she said. ‘I am to abandon my walk, am I, and to act as guide?’
“Yes,’ said the woman, quite simply. “I require assistance.”
There was a frigid pause, and the artist appeared to notice Nell’s displeasure for the first time.
“Please,” she said, stiffly.
Nell gave her a long, cool look, then turned on her heel and made for the path down the hillside. The artist watched her for a moment, perhaps to determine whether she were obeying orders, and then she mounted her horse and followed.